Friday, November 15, 2019

Is Venezuela Stabilizing?

Maybe.
ry It looks the inflation ratei in Venezuela maxed  out in January at an annuualized rate of 192,000 % , whiich fell by September to 4,600% rate, still in hyperinflationary teritoryy, but  clearly coming down substantially.  I am not  a fan of this regime and never was, unlike some prominent economists saying nice t8ings about tueir economic performance, especially back in 2007, just berofe  the  world crash, when indeed their  numbers  looked prtty good.  But, not more recently unfortunately.  But maybe they are slowly returning to a more functional economy now, with still a long way to go.

There are also reports that oil production in Venezuela has recently risen.  Reportedly some of the recent possible stabilization in Venezuela may reflect influence of Russian advisers.

Barkley  Rosser

Thursday, November 14, 2019

"Are Robots Stealing Your Job?" is the Wrong Question

Andrew Yang says, "Yes, Robots Are Stealing Your Job" in an op-ed at the New York Times. Paul Krugman thinks they're not and advises, "Democrats, Avoid the Robot Rabbit Hole." This is, of course, a classic case of asking the wrong question.

The real question is: will robots burn down your house and kill your grandchildren? Let's imagine that all those self-driving trucks and the computers needed to guide them will run on electricity generated by wind turbines and solar panels. Will the robots in the truck factories and the robots in the computer factories also run on wind and sunshine? How about the robots in the wind turbine factories and the solar panel factories and so one ad infinitum? I know an old lady who swallowed a fly...

Let's assume that it is feasible to phase out all current fossil fuel consumption by 2050 and replace it with renewable, zero-carbon energy. Does that mean it is equally feasible to provide the additional energy needed to run all those job-stealing robots? Or to put the question in proper context, would it be feasible to do it without an uncorruptable, omniscient global central planning authority?

The hitch in all this robot speculation is a little paradox known as Jevons paradox conjoined at the hip, so to speak, with it's counterpart, "Say's Law." The former paradox says that greater fuel efficiency leads to more fuel consumption, the latter paradox tells us that labor-saving machines create more jobs than they destroy. Here are two inseparable positive feedback loops that together generate an incongruous outcome. "Yes the planet got destroyed. But for a beautiful moment in time we created a lot of value for shareholders." Or lots of jobs, jobs, jobs. Or a monthly $1,000 payment to every adult "so that we can build a trickle-up economy," Choose your poison.

There is, they say, "a certain quantity of work to be done." Who says that? Good question. In the beginning, it was the political economists -- even proto political economists -- who said it. But around 1870 economists realized that the maxim conflicted with other things they had in mind so instead of professing it they began to condemn it and to attribute the idea to others -- to Luddites, Malthusians or Lump-of-Laborers. The idea that a people could always do more work was just too great a temptation. In principle, the amount of work that could be done is infinite! The robots will not replace us! The robots will not replace us!

What this job-stealing robot debate is really all about is an economics version of theodicy. "Why does evil exist if God, the creator, is omnipotent, omniscient and good?" This theological question is echoed in the puzzle about poverty in the midst of plenty and in Mandeville's "Fable of the Bees," where private vices promote public virtues. If it seems like robots are stealing your job, have faith, all is for some ultimate purpose in this best of all possible worlds, as Candide's tutor Dr. Pangloss would assure him.

Taking the Panglossian philosophy into account, it becomes clear that both Andrew Yang and Paul Krugman are on the same page. They are just reading different paragraphs. Although they disagree on what the solution is, they agree that there is a solution and it doesn't really require a fundamental change in the way we think about limits to the "certain quantity of work to be done."




Ukraine Corruption and Transfer Pricing

As I listened to the testimony of Bill Taylor and George Kent, I was also reading up on some South African transfer pricing case involving iron ore:
Kumba Iron Ore will pay less than half of the tax bill it received from the SA Revenue Service (Sars) last year following audits of its export marketing practices during the commodities boom. The settlement of R2.5bn significantly overshot the R1.5bn Kumba had set aside as a contingent liability. It is, however, a fraction of the taxes, penalties and interest payments Sars was pursuing the country’s dominant iron ore producer for. The existence of a potential tax liability was first reported to shareholders in June 2014, but Kumba could only put a number on it early last year when it received a tax assessment of R5 billion for the years 2006 to 2010.
If this account sounds like a lot of accounting gibberish, one might check with other accounts including whatever BDO wrote but these other accounts were even less informative. To paraphrase one commercial “people who know” avoid BDO. I think what happened is that the South African tax authority objected to what it saw as a lowball transfer pricing paid to the South African mining affiliate by a tax haven marketing affiliate and decided to completely disallow any commission income for the tax haven affiliate. This account at least notes that Kumba Iron Ore eventually told its shareholders that there might be some transfer pricing risk and that the issue was eventually resolved with a more modest commission rate booked by the marketing affiliate. So what does this have to do with Ukraine?
There is high public interest in the topic of “offshores” in both Ukraine and the EU. It is of particular importance for Ukraine which is categorized as an “open economy”, meaning a country with a high share of exports and imports relative to GDP. In particular, iron and steel production and exports from Ukraine are very significant even by the scale the global iron and steel markets. These sectors have also become the single largest source of wealth for the richest Ukrainians ... It is intriguing that even the Ukrainian authorities publicly declare that there is significant profit shifting occurring to avoid corporate taxation. For instance, according to the State Fiscal Service of Ukraine the usage of transfer pricing within all types of operations results in 100 billion hryvnia tax avoidance annually (around 3.3 billion euros), which leads to almost 20-25 billion hryvnia loss of the national state budget (Riabych, Vakulchyk 2015). This budgetary loss is equivalent to 660–750 million euros, which is comparable to the scale of the annual macro-financial assistance received by Ukraine from the European Union in the last several years to fill the budgetary gap.
The authors spend considerable effort attempting to document the extent of transfer pricing manipulation involving Ukraine’s exports of iron ore and steel. While I’m not convinced they have the right metrics, let’s admit that such tasks are difficult without the multinationals providing information on their business and transfer pricing policies. Of course, multinationals involved with the type of tax avoidance suggested in this document are reluctant to provide such clarity unless they were compelled to do so. It was funny yesterday when the Trump sycophants whined about second hand information with the obvious reply being to demand the testimony of those with first hand information. Now if we could get Rudy Giuliani under oath, not only should he be asked about UkraineGate but he should also be compelled to tell us what he knows about Ukrainian iron ore transfer pricing.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

What quid did the president quo and when did he quo it?

Aside from the headline news about a July 26 phone call, I learned four big things from the impeachment inquiry hearing this morning. First, the specific corruption surrounding Burisma Holidings had to do with self dealing by company founder Mykola Vladislavovich Zlochevsky -- issuing oil and gas licences to his own company when he was Minister of Ecology and Natural Resources. In other words, Zlochevsky did exactly what Donald J. Trump attempted to do with his Doral Golf Club and the G7 summit.

The second thing I learned is that President Trump was nursing a grudge against Ukraine because some Ukrainian politicians said some nasty things about him after he made a comment about letting Russia have Crimea. That's why he felt Ukraine "owed" him. The third thing is that the Ukraine shit made fanfall just about exactly the time that Trump was extemporizing about Hurricane Dorian hitting Alabama. Who knew Trump could multi-task?

The fourth thing I learned is the big one. There was not one quid pro quo but two. One involved Zelensky, the other Putin. That's the significance of the timing of the Trump-Zelensky phone call -- the day after Robert Mueller's congressional testimony was a dud. Humiliating Zelensky by forcing him to make a public announcement of a politically-motivated investigation of Biden-Burisma-2016 would hand to Putin his reward -- a weakened negotiating partner -- for the favor of having helped put Trump in the White House. The art of the deal, indeed.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

OK, Who Approved Of The Ads Here Now?

And not only that, presumably they are paying money to put them on, so who is getting that money?  I am not, although it may not amount to much.  Hey, I see there  are not nearly as many as on Angry Bear, where I find them to be obnoxiously in one's face, and they are pretty low key.  But, personally, I would rarther not have them and I sure as hell was never asked by anybody if I did want them.

This is also a message to those who may think I should be getting rid of weird stuff showing up in posts that I am not the person in charge of that.  So I guess I also have no say on whether we get ads, much less what they will be for.  Heck, I saw some survey about Trump.  I do not even want to see his m--f--g face here at all.

Barkley Rosser

Friday, November 8, 2019

"ok boomer " or "gas all boomers"

Within the last week or so there seems to have been an explosion of yattering over "ok boomer." Over the last few years in various parts of the internet there was a self-righteous meme pushing "gas all boomers."  Yeah. This never made it to the MSM, I suspect  because it was just too extreme for the MSM to publicize.  But now we have the MSM allover this milder "ok boomer" meme, now a big deal.  I think I have an original view of this,that the "gas all boomers"  is an idealistic millennial view, reflecting their boomer parents. This new milder meme reflects the view of the Gen-Z group, \

My view is that the former nastier "gas all boomers" meme was from the idealistic millennials, strongly rebutting their boomer parents,  We failed them, and them wanted us gassed for our  failures to deliver for them, especially in the Great Recession, which in their view at least of several years ago, was our boomer fault, although that is a pretty weak argument.

But now w come to this milder meme of "ok boomer," how polite.  Word is  that this is coming from Gen-Z sources, a groups younger than the angst-ridden millennials., who seem to have come up with the "gas all boomers" meme that went nowhere.

Obviously younger generations in the US have reasons  for being unhappy. The US economy, along with the  world economy, is slowing down.  Both the milllennials and the Gen-Z group face higher college costs and housing costs than their predecessors.  That the boomer gen is responsible for this outcome is a highly unreasonable view.

The middle portion of the millennials have  indeed been big victims of the Great Recession, and will for the rest of their lives will have lower incomes the MSM, was just too shocking, while arguably idealistic hard core in its formulation

But the new less shocking "ok boomer" meme is  coming from the new rising Gen-Z gen. Most commentary has lumped them in with the millennials, but this is crap.  They are following the "ironic" meme of their  parents, the supposedly loser Gen-X, with their irony.

So indeed that is this new "ok boomer" meme  that  is ironic, coming from the Gen-Z gen, following their  Gen-X "ironic' parents.  This contrasts with the hard line millennial "gas all boomers" view, ironically following the idealistic view of their boomer parents.

Barkley Rosser
 

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Mankiw’s Ideal Democrat (Bloomberg Alert)

Greg Mankiw has always been a Never Trumper:
I just came back from city hall, where I switched my voter registration from Republican to unenrolled (aka independent). Two reasons: First, the Republican Party has largely become the Party of Trump. Too many Republicans in Congress are willing, in the interest of protecting their jobs, to overlook Trump's misdeeds (just as too many Democrats were for Clinton during his impeachment). I have no interest in associating myself with that behavior. Maybe someday, the party will return to having honorable leaders like Bush, McCain, and Romney. Until then, count me out. Second, in Massachusetts, unenrolled voters can vote in either primary. The Democratic Party is at a crossroads, where it has to choose either a center-left candidate (Biden, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Yang) or a far-left populist (Warren, Sanders) as their nominee for president. I intend to help them choose the former. The latter propose to move the country too far in the direction of heavy-handed state control. And in doing so, they tempt those in the center and center-right to hold their noses and vote for Trump's reelection.
In a way I get this and a lot of other centrist Republicans are saying similar things. Enter Michael Bloomberg:
Michael Bloomberg is taking steps to enter the 2020 Democratic presidential campaign, a person familiar with his plans tells CBS News. Bloomberg, 77, has dispatched aides to Alabama to file paperwork in the state to run as a Democrat. The Cotton State doesn't hold an early Democratic presidential primary, but has the earliest filing deadline for the presidential campaign. Taking steps to file paperwork is the most serious signal yet that the former New York mayor and billionaire is seriously planning for a White House run. Howard Wolfson, a longtime Bloomberg adviser, said in a statement that Bloomberg "is increasingly concerned that the current field of candidates is not well positioned" to defeat President Trump.
I guess Bloomberg thinks Biden, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, and Yang are way too liberal for his America. Hey Never Trumpers – more tax cuts for rich people! Now of course, we need to pay for all of this and something tells me that proposals to slash Social Security and Federal health care payments are not exactly going to win the Bloomberg ticket a lot of votes. Oh wait – tax the little guy. Of course, Bloomberg has long proposed a soda tax. Let’s hope Mankiw convinces to go for a carbon tax instead. But addressing income inequality in a Bloomberg Administration? Not going to happen if the Mayor of Manhattan (mainly the Upper West Side and Upper East Side) becomes President!

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

The ARAMCO IPO Stumbles Out The Door

Finally after numerous delays, the potentially largest Initial Public Offering (IPO) of stock has finally become for fully state-owned ARAMCO in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA).  MOst of the delays had involved an unwillingness by the Saudi royal family to publicize financial and other factual details about the company, although issuing an IPO for 5 percent of the company was a part of the Vision 2030 plan of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS). 

As it is, for the time being the IPO is only available to Saudi nationals through the Riyadh stock exchange.  It is unclear how long or even if it will open up to foreigners.  Reportedly the Saudis are hoping for it to value  the company at $2 trillion, which would put it well ahead of Apple and Microsoft, both of which are around $1 trillion.  But some observers think this is overly optimistic on the part of the Saudis for a variety of reasons.

Along with that, the US has this past month for the first time since 1978 recorded a trade surplus in petroleum products.  This will continue to put  downward pressure on global oil prices, and also depress the prospects for how much money this IPO will raise in the end.

Barkley Rosser 

Monday, November 4, 2019

Has Tyler Cowen or John Cochrane Ever Heard of Monopsony Power?

I’m going to replicate one portion of a long winded rant about alleged cognitive dissonance:
The argument for a minimum wage is that labor demand is inelastic -- employers will hire the same number of workers. They will just absorb the higher wages or pass along the costs to customers. Workers get all the benefit. If labor demand is elastic, employers cut back on the number of employees.
Of course, labor economists would recognize that John Cochrane’s entire post assumes a perfectly competitive labor market. One has to wonder about economists who have never even considered monopsony power.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Republican Senators Suggest Trump’s Treason is Legal

Yes – we know President Clinton cheated on his wife while in office. And yes some Republicans such as Trump sycophant Lindsey Graham passed Articles of Impeachment over adultery. Graham was rewarded by being able to move from the House to the Senate where he repeatedly suggested that the Whistle Blower complaint was nothing more than “hear say”. My have things changed:
An increasing number of GOP senators are preparing to acknowledge that there was a quid pro quo in President Trump’s leveraging of military aid with Ukraine as a means to urge the country to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, The Washington Post reported Friday. While some Senate Republicans have defended Trump’s insistence that there was no quid pro quo, a growing number of GOP officials in the chamber are adopting the stance that what Trump did was a quid pro quo but that his actions weren’t illegal and don’t constitute impeachment, the Post reported.
Since when did treason become AOK? Yea I know these same Republicans will say “treason” is a harsh word for this holding up of military aid authorized by Congress to Ukraine which needs it to fend against Putin’s invasion in exchange for political dirt on Joe Biden. Of course, Trump’s sycophants say a lot of really stupid things. I listened to two proponents of impeachment debate on what to stress: (a) that Trump was selling out the national interest to our enemy Putin; or (b) Trump was gaining a corrupt benefit. Both statements are clearly true. But we can summarize (a) and (b) into a single and very understandable word – TREASON! Just in case these Republican Senators are confused as to what our Founding Fathers wrote when they gave us the Constitution, let’s remind them about Article II, Section 4 which states:
The President, Vice President and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.
Donald Trump did commit treason. Treason is an impeachable event. The only question is whether these Senators will fulfill their Constitutional roles or will simply remain Trump sycophants. Update: Mike Schupp has a rather weak argument to dismiss my use of the word treason. Yes he cites Article III section 3 but I would argue withholding military aid from Ukraine gave aid and comfort to the Russians who have invaded Ukraine. Mike also wrote this:
But we can't convict someone simply for being a rogue, we try them at law for specific criminal acts.
Sorry Mike but a lot of learned people would disagree. I would also remind people that Senator Trent Lott argued people had committed treason for a lot less than what Trump has done. Speaking of Senator Lott:
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) said Tuesday that Congress need not prove that President Clinton committed a crime to impeach him. “I think bad conduct is enough, frankly, for impeachment,” said Lott, who has provided guidance to Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) as the House grapples with perjury and other allegations against Clinton. But that is a far different standard from what Lott advocated during the Watergate hearings in 1974, when he was one of President Nixon’s staunchest congressional defenders. Lott and nine other Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee argued then that even proof of criminal conduct by a president was not necessarily enough to proceed with impeachment--precisely the position now taken by the White House and Clinton’s Democratic defenders. “It is our judgment . . . that the framers of the United States Constitution intended that the president should be removable by the legislative branch only for serious misconduct dangerous to the system of government established by the Constitution,” Lott and the other Republicans wrote in a minority report.
Adultery is neither a crime nor “serious misconduct dangerous to the system of government established by the Constitution. What Trump has done does represent the Lott 1974 standard for impeachment.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

The Death Of Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi And Related Matters

The self-proclaimed "Caliph" of Da'esh/ISIL/ISIS, Ibrahim Ali al-Badri al-Samarri, who took the name Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has blown himself up after US special forces successfully attacked his compound in Idlib province of Syria near the Turkish border after a US military dog attacked him. (His nom de guerre was chosen for its links to historical caliphs, the leaders of global Sunni Islam after the death of the Prophet Muhammed supposedly in his place, with Abu Bakr being the first such after the death of his son-in-law the Prophet and al-Baghdadi invoking the capital of the most powerful of all the caliphates, the Abbasid that ruled for 500 years from their capital in Baghdad).  A few observations.

While President Trump Trump bragged about this success of the US military for 46 minutes as a personal success of his own, the event was delayed for nearly a week and almost did not happen as al-Baghdadi was reportedly on the verge of moving again from the compound he was caught in because Trump had allowed Turkey to invade northeastern Syria, disrupting the Syrian Kurds there who had been the main US allies against Da'esh and al-Baghdadi, thus disrupting temporarily the planned attack.

While Trump most prominently thanked Russia and secondarily Turkey for their assistance in his speech while barely mentioning the US Kurdish allies, it was the latter who not only were largely responsible for ending the self-proclaimed caliphate as an entity ruling over people and territory in Syria, but also reportedly according to the Washington Post developed the mole within al-Baghdadi's circle who provided the crucial intelligence on al-Baghdadi's whereabouts and the details of his compound that made it possible to carry out this attack successfully.  The only thing Russia did was allow this attack to go forward as they reportedly control the airspace over Idlib province.  I am unaware of anything Turkey did to help this at all and in fact had in the past allowed goods to flow to Da'esh across the Turkish-Syrian border and most recently has been de facto supporting the al-Qaeda-related groups controlling Idlib province on the ground, with al-Baghdadi's compound near the Turkish border and the remnants of Da'esh apparently forming an alliance with those groups after having split from al-Qaeda in Iraq originally, with al-Qaeda considering them to be too violent.

In his bragging account of the successful operation Trump appears to have made up some details out of whole cloth in order to heighten the drama of it all, including perhaps most importantly a claim that al-Baghdadi was crying and screaming in a cowardly way at the end, something that has not been supported or verified at all by anybody publicly having primary knowledge of the events there.

Obviously Trump's decision to let Turkey invade Syria against the Kurds there and to describe these allies without whom al-Baghdadi would not have been found to be "worse terrorists then ISIS" as well as "no angels" as well as approving the entry of Russian and Syrian national troops into northeastern Syria reflects his admiration for the leaders of Turkey and Russia, where has major hotels in Istanbul and long has had financial relations with Russian oligarchs and desires to have a Trump Tower in Moscow.  His willingness to nearly botch this operation by betraying the Kurds (language used by Putin's press secretary, Peskov, regarding his actions) seems best explained by Trump's ongoing view of himself as "being primarily in the hospitality business" as his Acting Chief of Staff, Mick Mulvaney inadverdently put it in an interview on TV.

We finally have the absurd spectacle of Trump deciding to keep 200 troops in Syria to control a small group of oil wells there that Da'esh had gotten money from selling oil from until the SDF took control of them, but with the largely Syrian Kurdish SDF (which includes Christian Arabs) on the run thanks to the Turkish invasion, control of those wells might fall into the hands of either Da'esh agaiin, who will probably gain from this invasion given the freeing of over 100 fighters, despite the death of its leader, al-Baghdadi, or Syrian national troops backed by the Russians or maybe even the Turks.  Trump is under the fantasy that this oil might be developed and sold by an American company, but none will do so given that they are actually in Syrian national territory and thus this would be illegal internationally, as well as the area being a war zone.  Trump is simply delusional on this matter.

While I do not wish any particular person dead and oppose the death penalty, I do not mourn the horrible al-Baghdadi and am glad to see him no longer around to lead the remnants of Da'esh/ISIL/ISIS (I continue to be appalled by the insistence of western media of calling this renegade murderous outfit "the Islamic State" thus spreading the group's own propaganda).  But rather than deserving praise for this outcome, President Trump deserved the booing and "Lock Him Up" chants he experienced at the fifth game of the World Series given his betrayal of the Kurds that nearly made this operation impossible.

A final note is that in the wake of this, for the first time ever, the US House of Representatives has passed a resolution condemning Turkey for its refusal to recognize and apologized for the genocide carried out by the Turkish-dominated Ottoman Empire in 1915 against the Armenians.  This resolution, likely not to be passed in the Senate, had strong bipartisan support in the House.  It is about time, and the credibility of  Turkey's claims of innocence in the 1915 matter are as good as their  claims that the SDF was carrying out terror attacks against them, which is basically near zero in both cases.

Oh, Happy Halloween everybody.  I figures this makes for an appropriate post on Halloween.

Barkley Rosser

Thursday, October 24, 2019

The Famous Baseball-Watching Equality-Equity Graphic, Scrutinized

Here’s the graphic, widely used to explain why equity outcomes require unequal treatment of different people.



Benjamin Studebaker (hat tip Naked Capitalism) doesn’t like it at all: “I hate it so much.”  But his complaints, about the way the graphic elides classic debates in political theory, strike me as being too redolent of grad school obsessions.  The graphic is not trying to advance one academic doctrine over another; it just makes a simple case for compensatory policy.  I agree in a general way with this perspective.

Consider the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which mandates special facilities in public buildings to accommodate people in wheelchairs or facing other mobility challenges.  This is unequal treatment: extra money is spent to install ramps that only a few will use, rather than for amenities for everyone.  But it’s a great idea!  Yes, compensation is concentrated on a minority, but it aims to allow everyone to participate in public activities, and in doing this it embodies a spirit of solidarity that ought to embrace all of us.  By making a simple, intuitive case for focused compensation, the graphic captures the spirit behind the ADA and many other policies that take account of inequalities that would otherwise leave some members of the community excluded and oppressed.

Unfortunately, however, there are serious limitations to the graphic; above all, it embodies assumptions that beg most of the questions people ask about compensatory programs.  Some are challenges from conservatives of a more individualistic bent, others might be asked by friendly critics on the left, but all are worthy of being taken seriously.

1. Watching the game over the fence is binary: either you can see it or you can’t.  In the real world, however, most activites are matters of degree.  You can learn more or less of a particular subject in school, have a better or worse chance of getting the job you want, live in a bigger or smaller house or apartment.  How much compensation is enough?  At what point do we decide that the gains from ex post equity are not large enough to justify the other costs of the program, not only monetary but possible conflicts with other social objectives?  Every teacher who has thought about how much extra attention to give those students who come to the classroom with extra needs has faced this problem.

2. Watching the game is passive, an act of pure consumption.  Things get more complex when inequalities involve activities that produce goods of value to others.  For instance, how would the graphic address compensatory programs for the baseball players?  Yes, a player from an underserved, overlooked community should get an extra chance to show they should be on the team.  But should the criteria for who makes the team be relaxed?  How and how much?  In case you haven’t noticed, this gets to the core of debates over affirmative action.  Again, I am in favor of the principle of taking extra steps to compensate for pre-existing inequalities, but the graphic offers no guidance in figuring out how far to go in that direction.

3. Height is a largely inherited condition, but what about differences in opportunity that are at least partly the result of the choices we make ourselves?  This is red meat to conservatives, who denounce affirmative action and other compensatory policies on the grounds that they undermine the incentive to try hard and do one’s best.  I think this position is too extreme, since inherited and environmental conditions are obviously crucial in many contexts, but it would also be a mistake to say that individual choices play no role at all.  Again we are facing questions of degree, and the graphic, with it’s clear intimation that inequality is inborn and ineluctable, doesn’t help.

4. The inequality depicted in the graphic is height, which is easily and uncontroversially measured.  Most social inequalities are anything but.  Student A went to a high school with a library; student B’s high school didn’t have one.  That’s a meaningful inequality, and if an opportunity can be awarded to only one of them, like entrance into a selective college program, it ought to be considered.  But how big an effect should we attribute to it?  Damned if I know.

5. There is no real scarcity facing the three game-watchers in the graphics.  There are enough boxes to allow everyone to get a good view and enough fence space for everyone to share.  In the real world neither tends to be true.  Resources that can be devoted to compensatory programs are limited, especially on a global scale, which, if you’re really an egalitarian, is how you should think about these things.  Even locally, the money often runs short.  The college I used to teach at could be criticized for not doing enough for students from low income and rural backgrounds with weak K-12 systems (I certainly did), but even with the best of intentions the money was not there.  Of course, where the goods to be distributed are competitive, like slots in a school or job openings at a company, the problem is that there’s not enough fence space to go around.  Yes, we should take action to provide more opportunities and reduce the competitive scarcity.  No, this won’t make the scarcity go away completely.

6. The graphic shows us three individuals and asks us to visually compare their heights.  America has a population of over 320 million, and even “small” communities can have a cast of thousands.  Surely we are not expected to make individual calculations for every person-by-person comparison.  No, those using the graphic usually have in mind group comparisons—differences requiring compensatory interventions according to race, class, gender, ability status, etc.  But while that makes things easier by reducing the number of comparisons, it makes everything else much harder to figure out: How do we measure group advantages and disadvantages?  How do we account for intersections?  Are they additive, multiplicative or something else?  Do all members of the group get assigned the same advantage/disadvantage rankings?  If not, on what criteria?  These are tremendously difficult questions.  I am not suggesting that they force us to abandon an egalitarian commitment to substantive, ex post equality—quite the contrary, in fact.  We do have to face them if we want to reduce the inequality in this world.  My point here is that, by depicting just these three fans watching a baseball game over a fence, one tall, one medium, one short, the graphic is a dishonest guide to navigating actual situations.

My bottom line is that, while I agree with the spirit of the graphic that policies, whether at a single office, a large institution or an entire country, should take account of the inequalities people face in real life and try to compensate for them, how and how far to go is difficult to resolve.  Achieving ex post equality is complicated in the face of so many factors that affect our chances in life, and on top of this, equality is only one of many values we ought to respect.  The real world politics of affirmative action, targeted (as opposed to universal) benefit programs and the like reside in these complexities.  The equity graphic conveys the initial insight, but the assumptions packed into its story make it harder rather than easier to think through the controversies that bedevil equity politics.

Whither Lebanon?

Yeah, yeah, yeah.  I should probably write about the "big successs" we have in Northeastern Syria thanks to Vladdie Putin talking the Turkish president, Erdogan, into holding back some from his nation's invasion of Kurdish territory.  But, heck, it is still hard to know what is going on there.  So instead I am going to look at events happening in Lebanon mostly under the radar, but that are both connected to the broader war in Syria as Lebanon has been challenged by receiving over a million refugees from that war, but also is experiencing something that resembles events happening in several other nations and that may lead to deep changes in that complicated and  long-suffering nation, things that may actually be hopeful for an improved future, more likely than what is happening to the Kurds in Northeastern Syria.  Lebanon is experiencing massive street demonstration involving hundreds of thousands of people.

Lebanon became independent from French rule in 1943, having been carved out of the Ottoman province of Syria by them following the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement with the British in order to favor the elite Christian Maronite group, who follow eastern rites but are under the Catholic Church, with the wealthy Maronites having had close relations with the French dating back to the Crusades.  With 18 recognized ethnic/religious commuities, the French set up a system based on these groups, but favoring the the Maronites, then the largest group.  The president, as well as the Chief of Staff of the military and the Head of the central bank, were to be Maronites.  The premier would be from the then-second largest group, a Sunni Muslin, and the Speaker of the parliament would be from the poorest group, the Shi'a, who were predominant in the South next to Israel.  The Sunnis would increase in population as waves of Palestinian refugees entered, fist in 1948, and then in 1970 after the failure of the Black September uprising in Jordan, with the PLO taking power in various parts of Lebanon then.  However, the poor Shi'a would become the largest group in population. 

In 1975 civil war broke out initially between the Maronites and the PLO, but various groups sided up up with each other, with some ethnic groups split among themselves, including the Maronites.  The war lasted until 1990, when entry by Syrian forces largely brought it to an end following the 1989 Taif Agreement, which promised that a Senate would be formed that would be led by someone from the nation's fourth largest group, the Druze, but this never  happened.  An important group coming out of the civil war was Hezbollah, the Shi'a group backed by Iran and founded in 1982 to oppose both Israel and the PLO.  Over time it would become the strongest militia and political group in Lebanon, long led by Hassan Nasrallah, and now the most important group in the government, operating through an alliance with current Maronite president, Michel Aoun.  The premier is Saad Hariri, son of a premier assassinated in 2005 by the Syrians, which led to the Cedar Revolution, a massive uprising that led to the Syrians largely leaving, although now the population has surged due to the arrival of many mostly Sunni Syrian refugees from the war.  The current premier also was briefly detained by Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, nominally his  ally.

Out of the war and its aftermath, the barely-ruled nation came to be dominated by a corrupt elite from a small group of families from each of the main ethnic groups.  The economy long ago fell into a kind of permanent stagnation, with many public services barely functioning and one of the largest foreign debts/GDP in the world, with these elites siphoning off massive via their corruption.  Anger over this erupted over a week ago fallowing a proposal to raise taxes on phone calls on Whats App.  The demonstrations have crossed party and ethnic lines, with hundreds of thousands in the streets and now calling for a complete replacement of the current regime and all its main leaders and groups, including Aoun, Nasrallah, and Hariri.  This is profoundly potentially hopeful, although where all this will lead remains unknown and unclear.

Curiously this parallels similar demonstrations going on in quite a few nations, nearly all of them initiated by a proposed or actual tax increase, with the Gilets Jaunes ("yellow vests") in France arguably an earlier inspiration.  Such demonstrations, most of them also massive and ongoing, are going on in Ecuador, Chile, Haiti, with also the somewhat related but also somewhat distinct ones in Hong Kong as well.  In short, this is a globally widespread movement that looks to shake up  governments and systems in many nations.  However, the one in Lebanon next to Syria that is still experiencing war that directly impacts it may have the largest demonstrations with those making maybe the most serious demands of any of them.  The long troubled nation of Lebanon now stands at the epicenter of a global upheaval of potentially enormous significance.

Barkley Rosser

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Mike Pompeo Reminds Me of Al Capone

How to say in Latin that our Secretary of State is pompous and dishonest as it gets? Oh yea – if one says “quid pro quo” in English, it never happened. These unbelievable stupid excuses for denying what is plainly true – that Trump extorted dirt on Democrats from Ukraine by withholding military aid – is insulting as they are treating us like “chumps” to paraphrase Leon Penatta. But even more insulting is this:
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo fiercely criticized the House impeachment inquiry, saying his department is being treated unfairly as Democrats seek to remove President Donald Trump from office ... “They’re not letting State Department lawyers in the room ... they have not let State Department lawyers be part of these hearings,” Pompeo said. “That’s unheard of ... I haven’t seen you all report that.”
First of all, we do know that the brave members who served the State Department honorably have turned down Pompeo’s lawyers in lieu of bringing their own so this last sentence of his is a lie as this fact has been reported on. Secondly, Pompeo is whining that HE is being treated unfairly. Look Pompeo is clearly a mobster style criminal – hence my reference to Al Capone. Can you imagine a grand jury investigation of a mob boss where the mob boss gets to send his own lawyer into the testimony before the grand jury? Witnesses might be reluctant to appear out of fear that the mob lawyer would tell his client who to knock off. Pompeo is all about witness intimidation as he fears the truth. And yea – I bet Pompeo and his boss (Trump) would stoop to killing anyone who dares to stand up to their treasonous crimes.

Friday, October 18, 2019

The Ultimate Solution

Yes, Trump really said that.  The Syrian Kurds, who have been where they are about to be ethnically cleansed out of, are welcoming "the ultimate solution," just like Jews in you know where were welcoming "the final solution."  Of course they must accept this because they are "no angels," "communists," and "worse then ISIL." So much for a "post-socialist" Bookchinite cooperative system.  But, hey, they are all so fortunate to have "the ultimate solution."   What else is there to say?

Barkley Rosser

An Increasingly Divergent US Economy

Lots of people have been huffing and puffing about whether or not the US economy will go into a recession in the near future, with Menzie Chinn and Jim Hamilton at Econbrowser saying it is now about 50-50 whether or not the US economy will go into recession by the end of 2020.   I do not have a horse in that race, but I am struck that a new odd phenomenon has recently appeared in the US economy, a split between sectors regarding their performance that recently seems to be increasing.

The sectors are manufacturing, which has been declining now for several months, the harbinger of recession, and housing starts, which has more recently been showing an acceleration of growth that may well hold off any recession if it continues to accelerate.  It is unclear which will win out.

The manufacturing decline has been widely tied to the trade wars, which would appear to be at least partly responsible.  It is also the sector that through trade may be experiencing the pressures of the slowing of global growth.

However, ironically the recent increase in housing starts may be a result of the fears of recession that have been mounting recently, along with the Repo Ruckus that happened last month.  The upshot of these has been a change in Fed policy towards stimulus, with target interest rates being gradually moved down while the Fed has also stopped reducing balances and has been actively intervening in the repo markets to keep them stabilized.  In any case, housing is the most interest-rate sensitive sector of the economy, so it may be that this shift in monetary policy has triggered the uptick in housing starts that is now moving to offset the decline clearly apparent in manufacturing. 

This is getting interesting, and I am not going to forecast how it will come out.

Barkley Rosser

Monday, October 14, 2019

A Nobel for the Randomistas

I don’t think anyone was surprised by this year’s “Nobel” prize in economics, which went to three American-based specialists in the design of on-the-ground experiments in low income countries, Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo and Michael Kremer.  I think the award has merit, but it is important to keep in mind the severe limitations of the work being honored.

The context for this year’s prize is the long, mostly frustrating history of anti-poverty projects in the field of development economics.  Much of the world, for reasons I’ll put to the side for now, is awash in poverty: billions of people lack access to decent sanitation, medical care, education and physical and legal protection, not to mention struggling to put food on the table, a roof over their head and cope with increasing demands for mobility.  A lot of money has been spent by aid organizations over the years to alleviate these conditions, without nearly enough to show for it.  (My specialty, incidentally, has been in child labor, which has been the focus of a large piece of this work.)

There have been various reactions to the lack of progress.  One has been to argue that the effort has been too weak—that we need more money and ambition to turn the corner.  This is Jeffrey Sachs, for instance.  Another is that the whole enterprise is misbegotten, a relic of colonialism that was always destined to fail.  You can get this in either a right wing (William Easterly) or left wing (Arturo Escobar) version.  (I critiqued the "left" stance on child labor here.)  A third is where this Nobel comes in.

Maybe the reason development projects weren’t working was because they had never been properly tested before widespread adoption.  Societies and the people in them are complicated, and ideas that may make sense in the abstract often fail in practice.  So really test them.  Set up controlled experiments, whose design will ensure that measured outcomes represent causal mechanisms.  One of the common elements of these designs was randomization of treatment to avoid confounding influences on who might be included in a program versus those in the control group, hence the term “randomistas”.

Without question, the experimental approach has produced genuine insights.  We have a much better sense, for instance, of the role played by institutional malfeasance in places like schools and hospitals: teachers that don’t teach, medical practitioners that don’t show up or follow protocols.  Just throwing money at organizations without reforming them is a dead end.  In fact, implementing programs to enhance their experimental value is central to the concept of adaptive management; it should be standard practice everywhere.

All the same, there are serious limitations to a strategy centered on experimental design.  Here are a few:

1. Good experimental design results in internal validity, where measurements actually measure the things they’re supposed to and confounding influences are suppressed.  External validity, the extent to which results can be generalized to a wider array of situations beyond the confines of the experiment is a different matter.  There are two specific aspects of experimentalism that raise questions on this front, the tendency for experiments to be small, local and time-bound (like a set of schools in one state in India in the mid-00's) and the effects of experimental control itself, when a sort of artificiality creeps in.  I’m familiar with the literature on experimentally designed conditional income transfers, for instance, where every new study, with a new country location, time period or set of design tweaks seems to alter the bottom line of what works and how.

2. The strategy of experimental design virtually requires a reductionist, small-bore approach to social change.  A more sweeping, structural approach to poverty and inequality introduces too many variables and defeats experimental control.  Thus, without any explicit ideological justification, we end up with incremental reformism when the entire social configuration may be the true culprit.

3. Carefully controlled social experiments can be very expensive!  When I read the work of the prize-winners and their coauthors, I often find myself wondering how much did it cost to do this research, and who paid for it?  This is a form of Big Science, and it requires big support.  That in turn lends power to the funding institutions, which can decide what problems and potential solutions deserve attention.  In addition, on-the-ground experiments depend on participation from the institutions being studied.  There is a tendency for randomista work to challenge the people on the lower rungs of hierarchy, like the teachers and nurses mentioned above, and leave their bosses—not to mention the elites at the top—unexamined.

On balance, I think it’s fine that this prize honors experimentalism, but we shouldn’t lose sight of the larger picture.  Using experimental methods to incorporate more learning in program administration should be standard practice; perhaps some day it will be.  But the big problems in poverty and oppression are too complex and encompassing to be reduced to experimental bits, and there is no substitute for theoretical analysis and a willingness to take chances with large-scale collective action.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Eeeeeeeeemoluments And How Bad Bruce Springsteen Is

I have almost never watched through a Trump speech to one of his rallies, but I was curious what he would say at the first one after the impeachment inquiry officially started, which he held a few days ago in Minneapolis, supposedly trying to take MN away from the Dems in 2020.  I missed the opening, but listened to all of it after that. 

Much of it was just boilerplate stuff he says all the time, much of it blatant falsehoods, but whart we have heard.  News reports focused on his especially nasty remarks about Ilhan Omar, who iis from Minnesota, so he made a special point about denouncing her and those supporting her pretty harshly.  But I want to mention are two odd items I saw no reports on, but that strike me as signs of Trump losing it, setting himself up for trouble in both the impeachment and if he survives that in the election next year.

The first involves the emoluments clause, something I would think he would not be saying anything about.  But he has long seemed to deal with problematic matters by essentially admitting the problems and then just doing a "So what? No big deal" line that he then tries to get established as the line for his followers at Fox News and elsewhere to spout and spread.  However, as with releasing the summary of the phone transcript with Zelensky, I think this may not work out so well for him as this is potentially another article of impeachment.

So there he went.  I do not remember what immediately preceded it, but then he said the word in this long drawn-out way as if to ridicule it: "Eeeeeeeeemoluments?  Then he said, "Whoever has even heard of this word?" (more attempted ridicule)  He then effectively admitted guilts, sort of, but clearly in a way to dismiss it.  "So what if some people I do not even know stayed in some of my hotels?"  Yes, this red shirt-wearing audience ate it up, if not perhaps as raucouslyi and enthusiastically as some other lines.  But there it was, and, of course, they ate up anything and everything he said.

I can kind  of understand this one as perhaps a strategic matter, getting ahead of something that is coming out and trying to frame it and brand it for his followers.  But the next one I really do not get.

He went after Bruce Springsteen, saying his name several times over with clear disgust and actually declaring him to be a "bad man." Really.  Now probably that is not going to be fatal to him, and he might even convince some of his followers not to like Bruce Springsteen, although his support of Dem candidates has been going on for quite some time, since long before Trump came along.  But offhand this strikes me as basically a stupid thing to do.  He really should have said nothing on this.  Springsteen is not only very popular, but he has that working class cred and all-American appeal from his "Born in the USA" days.  I mean really.  This is the sign he is losing it that he thinks he is going to gain anything by denouncing Springsteen.  This is just dumb, very dumb.  But there you go.

Barkley Rosser


Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Closing The Open Skies

Trump's stonewalling on impeachment is the top story, snore.  Lower down and more important is Trump allowing Turkey to attack the Kurds in Syria with the support of Russia. Even GOP senators do not like this and ISIS fighters may get out. But, heck, those will go to Europe, and unlike the Btis and Canadians, the Kurds did not help us out in Normandy in WW II.  And, probably most important, Trump has major business interests in Turkey.

However, much less reported (although covered by David Ignatius in WaPo today), but arguably more important than either is Trump's decision to withdraw from the "Open Skies" agreement with Russia to allow oversight flights by each over the other to test for "doomsday weapons" development, an idea initially proposed by Eisenhower in 1956.  This continues an ongoing collapse of nuclear arms control agreements, with Trump having withdrawn from the Intermediate Nuclear Forces agreement last year, much to the consternation of most of Europe, although arguably Russia had been in violation of it for a long time.  Back in 2002 Bush withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile agreement, which his people thought was a much more important thing to do than fight al-Qaeda.

As of now there is only one remaining nuclear arms control agreement left between the US and Russia, the New Start of 2010, which puts caps on numbers of weapons.  It is due  to expire in 2021, and as of now no negotiations are going on between US and Russia, while both seem to be embarking on developing yet new kinds of strategic nuclear weapons.  This is a very dangerous situation.

The great irony is that supposedly Trump's friendship with Putin was to have improved world peace by their cooperation. But while Trump continues to defend Putin on almost everything from assassinating journalists to annexing Crimea to letting Turkey invade Northeast Syria, the two are frozen when it comes to arguably the most important issue between the two: controlling nuclear weapons.  All I can think is that both are totally under the thumbs of their respective military-industrial complexes.

Barkley Rosser

Medicare for All

The abstract for "Does Medicare Coverage Improve Cancer Detection and Mortality Outcomes?" by Rebecca Mary Myerson, Reginald Tucker-Seeley, Dana Goldman and Darius N. Lakdawalla:
Medicare is the largest government insurance program in the United States, providing coverage for over 60 million people in 2018. This paper analyzes the effects of Medicare insurance on health for a group of people in urgent need of medical care – people with cancer. We used a regression discontinuity design to assess impacts of near-universal Medicare insurance at age 65 on cancer detection and outcomes, using population-based cancer registries and vital statistics data. Our analysis focused on the three tumor sites with recommended screening before and after age 65: breast, colorectal, and lung cancer. At age 65, cancer detection increased by 72 per 100,000 population among women and 33 per 100,000 population among men; cancer mortality also decreased by 9 per 100,000 population for women but did not significantly change for men. In a placebo check, we found no comparable changes at age 65 in Canada. This study provides the first evidence to our knowledge that near-universal access to Medicare at age 65 is associated with improvements in population-level cancer mortality, and provides new evidence on the differences in the impact of health insurance by gender.
I can't vouch for the results, not having read the article in full, but the study design looks good, provided they avoided the spurious results from higher order nonlinear relationships separated by the discontinuity.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

The Repo Ruckus

This is now about three weeks old news, but it is increasingly clear that it is not clear why it happened or if it will happen again.  There was an outbreak of completely unexpected volatility in the repo market, where in the past the Fed had carried out open market operations, although that had largely passed.  Indeed in more recent years when the Fed has intervened in markets it has been in the reverse repo market.  In any case, interests rates shot up as high as 9 or 10 percent at one point, with the federal funds rate also getting out of its allowed range on the upside, although not by that much.  The New York Fed pumped about $400 billion into the market to stabilize it, so there was no immediate fallout from this, and if it happens again, probably the Fed can do it again. Nevertheless, this is a sign of things going on in the markets that are poorly understood, and John Williams, the New York Fed president has come under criticism for not providing any clear explanations.

What we have are several theories, with what happened probably a combination of them.  The blowup seems to have reflected an out-of-the=blue liquidity crunch in the system.  One reason for lower liquidity is due to the gradual drawdown of the Fed balance sheet, which reportedly had declined from $1,6 to $1,4 trillion during 2019.  This was all part of a "normalization" effort by the Fed, which now seems to have halted.  A likely culprit for the crunch was the impending end of the third quarter when financial demands by many firms increase due to needing to pay taxes and also to make various portfolio adjustments prior to making quarterly reports, with these times in the year often seeing at least some increased pressures and volatility, if not usually on this scale.  Another factor some have proposed as playing a role is the capital requirements on big banks from the Basel III Accords, although these have never been a problem before. But the  problems do apparently seem to have emanated from larger banks, which is consistent with this aspect.  It may also be that there are things going on in the shadow banks that are aggravating the liquidity demands, although they remain shadowy as usual.

In any case, the effort to return to a supposed pre-Great Crash "normal" seems to be dead, for better or worse.  We are in a different system now, but exactly how it operates and what are the sources of its apparent new fragility remain somewhat unclear.  Whether this portends more serious upheavals and possible crashes and recession also are unclear.

Barkley Rosser

Monday, October 7, 2019

Drain the Ukrainian Swamp

Trump’s latest excuse for withholding arms for the Ukrainian government to defend itself against Putin’s invitations so he can extract dirt against the Bidens is what again? Oh yea – he wants to root out corruption. REALLY? OK – start with this:
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — As Rudy Giuliani was pushing Ukrainian officials last spring to investigate one of Donald Trump’s main political rivals, a group of individuals with ties to the president and his personal lawyer were also active in the former Soviet republic. Their aims were profit, not politics. This circle of businessmen and Republican donors touted connections to Giuliani and Trump while trying to install new management at the top of Ukraine’s massive state gas company. Their plan was to then steer lucrative contracts to companies controlled by Trump allies, according to two people with knowledge of their plans.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Why Is Iraq Blowing Up Now?

Yes, Iraq.  It has not made front page headlines with so much else going on, but over the lat several days there has been an escalating series of protests against corruption in various parts of Iraq, but culminating yesterday in Baghdad with one that was met by soldiers firing openly upon the demonstarters with the result being about 104 dead and 6100 wounded.  The government of Adel Abdul Mahdi appears in danger of facing a no confidence motion and falling as it has lost the support of fellow Shia leader al-Sadr, who has a large faction of supporters in the parliament and how apparently is now supporting the demonstraters.

Corruption has become an increasingly widespread problem around the world, so much so that we increasingly take it for granted and get unimpressed by it.  And we are tired of hearing about Iraq, a nation we made a mess of but are now mostly not much bothered with, especially since it appears that ISIS has been largely defeated.  Indeed, opposition to the deep government corruption there laid low while the war against ISIS was on.  But now with its defeat, many want something done about it.

The way to realize the scalee of it is that Iraqi oil production has finally seriously recovered from all these wars, now up to about 4.5 million barrels per day.  That makes it fourth in the world with a bit less than half that the top three have: US, Russia, and Saudi Arabia.  Of course the US still consumes more than it produces, but other major producers, including many nations producing much less than Iraq, have large state funds accumulated from their oil export earnngs, many of which are being used to fund many useful things in their respective nations.  But no such fund exists in Iraq.  Billioins of dollars worth of earnings have simply disappeared.  Nobody knows where it has gone to and is going to.  The scale of this is truly immense, and when one stops to think about it, it becomes clear why there is such anger in Iraq now.  The nation has suffered decades of repression and war and destruction.  Peace has finally more or less arrived, and all this money is flowing in.  But none of it seems to be being used to fix up all the messes.

This is likely to get worse before it gets better.

Barkley Rosser

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Does Bill Barr Need It in Writing?

I think we all know AG Barr lied about the Mueller report but permit me to go back to this:
The moment Attorney General William Barr laid eyes on a letter from special counsel Robert Mueller criticizing Barr's summary of his two-year investigation, he knew his goose was cooked. Mueller was creating a written record that wouldn't allow Barr to bastardize his concerns the way he had mischaracterized Mueller's report. “Bob, what’s with the letter? Why didn’t you just pick up the phone and call me?” Mueller didn't need to tell Barr what they both knew: Mueller now considered Barr an untrustworthy adversary—a liar, in essence. Going forward, Mueller was going to memorialize his views in writing
. Fast forward to how AG Barr handled the Whistleblower complaint:
The CIA’s general counsel made a criminal referral — or at least, she thought she did — of a whistleblower’s complaint concerning President Donald Trump’s interactions with Ukraine’s president. According to NBC News, which cited unnamed officials familiar with the matter, Courtney Simmons Elwood, the CIA’s top lawyer, considered her Aug. 14 phone call with high-ranking DOJ officials to be a criminal referral. However, unnamed Justice Department officials told NBC News they didn’t consider the conversation to be a formal criminal referral — because it wasn’t in writing.
Bill Barr is a pathetic excuse for Attorney General. We need to demand that he resign – TODAY!

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

The First Anniversary Of The Murder Of Kamal Khashoggi

There is a special section containing 11 columns in today's (October 2, 2019) Washington Post on the first anniversary of the murder of its former columnist from Saudi Arabia, Kamal Khashoggi.  I shall quote from some of these columns.

From "Khashoggi's horrifying final seconds" by David Ignatius:

"The authorization to kill Khashoggi, if that became necessary, came in a second order, from [Saud] Qahtani." [a top aide to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman aka "MbS"]

"What does Qahtani say about whether the crown prince authorized these actions? ... we can be guided by a  Twitter message Qahtani sent back in August 2017 when questioned about his activities: 'I am a trustworthy employee who carries out the orders of his boss."

From "Let the world hear his last words, in Arabic" by Karen Attiah:

[quoting Columbia University professor Hamid Dabashi]: "How does one scream in Arabic?" He wrote that Jamal's last words were not in Arabic or any particular language, but rather "were the primordial cries od a people from one end of the Arab and Muslim world to the next, maligned and brutalised by a system of tyrannical abuse."

From "Why we won't forget the horror of Jamal's murder" by Fred Ryan:

"...it will prove hard to forget the administration's unexplained snub of the CIA, the United Nations and Congress. Although the CIA's investigation, concluded with high confidence that [Crown Prince] Mohammed [bin Salman] ordered Jamal's killing, the agency's experts were ignored. The U.N. special rapporteur investigating the case declared that the United States is allowing itself 'to be made complicit in what is, by all appearances, a miscarriage of justice and called on the FBI to probe further. No action on the bureau's part has been announced."

From "We need justice for Yemen - and justice for l" by Tawkkol Karman:

"In my last meeting with Jamal, in Istanbul two months before his death, we agreed to make a joint effort to stop the war under the slogan 'Stop the war, stop the coup, stop the hunger.' I will not forget his words to me that day: 'I will help you with all I can, if not for Yemen, then for my country, Saudi Arabia, which has lost so much because of the war economically and morally."

From "How a crime has changed global affairs" by Asli Aydintasbas:

"But the real story is not about Saudi brutality; it is about the mealy-mouthed response from the West. What was truly shocking about the incident was the Western acquiescence to it."

From "Jamal Khashoggi's enduring truths," main editorial probably by Fred Hiatt:

"Mohammed bin Salman's policies are carrying him toward a dead end - maybe even a precipitous crash. Mr. Trump, mired in scandal and preoccupied with his reelection campaign, is unlikely to do much to help him. The crown prince might still rescue himself, but only if he finally heeds the advice Khashoggi offered him.  Release female activists and other political prisoners and punish those who tortutred them; end the war in Yemen; allow peaceful critics like Khashoggi to come home and speak freely.  Last but not least, the crown prince should stop offering half-truths and accept full responsibility for ordering the murder."

From "Saudi Arabia's dangerous monarchy" by Hala al'Dosari:

"The leadership has turned the capacity and skills of high-ranking officials, including consular staff and journalists, into tools of oppression. The media has beenfeeding ultranationalist sentiments to justify its domestic and foreign policy failures. No public discourse exists on critical issues, including the war in Yemen, the Saudi-led boycott of Qatar, or the enduring challenges of unemployment and poverty - let alone discussion on the trial of Jamal's killer or justice for political prisoners."

"The Saudi monarchy might claim to be forward-thinking with its Vision 2030 modernization plan and efforts to court Western leaders.  In reality, however, it has simply institutionalized a centuries-old monarchic legacy of violence, disenfeanchisement, and repression.  Jamal's murder and the torture of female activists have brought this to light."

Barkley Rosser

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Peoples' Republic of China Reaches Age 70

While most US media  claims China (PRC) has the world's second largest economy, that is only true as measured in nominal terms.  Measured in real PPP terms, Chinese GDP surpassed that of the US in 2015 and contnes to move further ahead of it (and is likely to pass it in nominal terms very soon), despite gradual deceleration of the Chinese GDP growth rate.  Furthermore, PRC seems to be taking global leadership in crucial 5G technology.  In the last 70 years the PRC has gone from a poor nation wracked by regular famines to a solidly middle class nation with vastly reduced poverty and no famines for many decades (although there was an especially severe one in the late 1950s that killed millions in the early part of the regime).

I would like to put this anniversary into a broader historical perspective, in particular from a traditional Chinese view.  That is that while there have been exceptional periods, most of Chinese history has been driven by dynasty cycles, with the average life of a dynasty being about 300 years, as with the Tang, Song, Yuan, Ming, ans Qing (the Han lasted 400 years, some others for much shorter periods).  The classic pattern has been for the first century to be dynamic, with proper Mandarin civil service exams associated with a competent bureaucracy and effective management of the agro-hydraulic infrastructure, with a growing economy.  The second century involves a flattening out and slowing of growth.  In the third century corruption of the exams rises as does general corruption and stagnation as the incompetent bureaucracy mismanages the infrastructure and the broader economy, with all this leading to the Malthusian disasters of war, famine, and pestilence, and the eventual collapse of the dynasty.

In this perspective the Communists are a new dynasty, now getting into the later stage of their first century, although some would say the new dynasty started with the end of the Qing a century ago.  Of course technically that first post-Qing regime/dynasty survives in Taiwan, which has done far better economically than has the PRC.  In any case, the rapid growth PRC has seen since the Dengist reforms 40 years ago have been that initial dynamic phase of an early dynastic period.  What we are seeing now with the current slowdown is the move towards that second century regularization, which is marked by Xi harking back to the origin of the dynasty with Mao.  This is all the more so given the challenge posed by the  ongoing uprising in Hong Kong.

Beside Hong Kong and apparently Taiwan, the expansion of Chinese power and influence across much of the world, especially through the Belt and Roadd initiative, may be running into limits.  Reports from various nations, most recently Pakistan, is that many are becoming unhappy with the conditions associated with this initiative and are pulling back or resisting deeper involvement.  We shall continue to see Chinese growth and expansion of global influence, but this anniversary marks a point where the nature of this is changing to a more constrained path.  This will prove a serious challenge to the Chinese leadership, both while Xi is in power, but even more for his successors.

Barkley Rosser

Saturday, September 28, 2019

UkraineGate: What Will Volker Say?

I am referring to Kurt Volker:
The president's lawyer Rudy Giuliani has revealed text messages of conversations between himself and senior officials at the State Department that he says show they endorsed his controversial dealings with Ukraine…During an appearance on Fox News show The Ingraham Angle last night, Giuliani revealed 15 text messages between himself, U.S. Special Representative to Ukraine Kurt Volker, and U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland.
When I first heard the lying and very corrupt RUDY say this, I could only imagine the consternation of the people in the State Department over the fact that RUDY wants to drag them down with him. But here is the interesting news:
Kurt Volker, US special envoy to Ukraine, has resigned one day after the release of a whistleblower report alleging a coverup by the White House of a call between President Donald Trump and Ukraine's President, three sources familiar with the matter confirmed to CNN. Volker was named in the report…here is no evidence of wrongdoing by either Joe or Hunter Biden. The news of Volker's resignation comes just hours after the House Foreign Affairs Committee announced they would hold a deposition for him next week. "We still expect to hear everything he knows about this scandal," said a congressional aide familiar with the deposition plans. But it's unclear if he will still speak with the committee on the planned date. Giuliani denied to CNN on Thursday the characterizations of his interactions with Volker detailed in a complaint from an American intelligence community whistleblower, saying he had a "nice little trail" of text messages with Volker to prove his story. "I spoke to the State Department during the course of this situation, I told you, at least 10 times, and I met with them," Giuliani told CNN.
Yes RUDY – we know you love to talk. Of course no sane person believes a word you say. Why should we expect Mr. Volker to come forward and do the right thing?
Volker got along with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo but he remained very much associated with the late Arizona Sen. John McCain, "which is not a winning character trait for Trump" explained another source close to Volker. He never became an insider in the Trump administration, but due to his contacts with Giuliani he had an increasingly complicated role.
Country first! A concept that is foreign to RUDY and his client.

The New US-Japan Trade Agreement

Lost in the shuffle this past week was one piece of good news for Trump: a tentative trad deal with Japan that he and Japan's PM Shinzoe Abe signed in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting.  While it is largely a favorable deal, it does not do too much and leaves the most difficult issue to be resolved by later negotiation, namely regarding the auto industry.

Trade restrictions are lowered on a variety of agricultural goods, including pork, beef, wheat, corn, and some fruits the US exports (but not soybeans), and on a few Japan exports including green tea,   persimmons, and soy sauce.

In the industrial area, restrictions are lowered on machine tools from Japan and some scattered others.  Restrictions are also lowered on digital products gong both  ways.  I do not know how much this will increase trade flows overall each way.

This is good news especially for many farmers, a main concern of Trump's although not soybean farmers, with, if anything, they possibly suffering from the lowering of barriers on soy sauce from Japan, which will hit Kikkoman in southern Wisconsin.

Of course autos are a very large item involving trade between the two countries, and there is no change on that one.

The final irony, of course, is that most of this, especially in the agricultural area, was part of the TPP that the US withdrew from.  So basically this resembles the USMCA NAFTA replacement in largely simply putting in place the changes with other nations that would have happened anyway if the US had not withdrawn from the TPP, in short, undoing Trump's own handiwork from early in his administration, although that point is not being emphasized.

Barkley Rosser

Monday, September 23, 2019

Take Your Pick of Left Wing Climate Change Narratives: Green Abundance or Righteous Austerity

While I was preoccupied with other things, the US left settled on a pair of competing climate change narratives.  By the time I looked, the choice was down to just these two, and no other views could be considered.

View #1, Green Abundance, is that combating climate change means unleashing the power of renewable energy.  Fortunately, according to this story, renewables are already the cheapest way to go, or if not quite, they will be once they are scaled up through a massive infusion of public investment.  And this investment is a golden opportunity to ameliorate other problems like anemic economic growth, un- and underemployment, and sluggish incomes.  We will provide green jobs at union wages for everyone who wants one, with special opportunities for workers in the fossil fuel sector.  We will do for this generation what FDR’s original New Deal did for our grandparents, restoring prosperity and a building a vibrant middle class.  We’ll do it even better this time, because we will design our programs to fight racism, sexism, and the oppression of LGBTQ people, immigrants and indigenous nations, along with every other impediment to social justice.  Meanwhile, we will tax the handful of giant corporations that are responsible for most of the carbon emissions, using their ill-gotten gains to finance an environment that’s healthy for people and other living things.  Climate change will turn out to be a godsend, because the struggle against it will unite us around an all-inclusive economic, ecological and social agenda.

View #2, Righteous Austerity, is that the root cause of the ecological crisis is capitalism’s incessant drive to expand, which has fostered the toxic ideology of economic growth.  We can’t have endless growth on a finite planet, so growth has to end right now.  We don’t need a bigger economy, because we can be happier and live more meaningful lives by shifting away from the false god of consumption.  Another benefit of a non-growing economy is that it will force us to undertake redistribution, since that will then be the only way the poor the can advance.  Of course, by curtailing economic growth we will also be overturning capitalism, which means that all the other ills caused by this irrational, outmoded system will diminish or disappear altogether.  We can then finally say goodbye to our political overlords who have forced us to endure economic growth whether we wanted it or not.  Ultimately, climate change is a message delivered to the human race from a beleaguered planet that can’t absorb any more of our exploitation.  We must heed this message and radically change what we value and how we live, abandoning excessive material desires for the deeper pleasures of community and spirituality.

And then there are those on the left who adopt both views: they are for ending economic growth and producing an abundance of green, well-paying jobs for all.  They want to eat their cake and not have it too.

As far as I can see, that’s the progressive political landscape on climate change.  Anyone else besides me feel left out?

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Country Music

I have been watching Ken Burns's "Country Music"  series on PBS.  May not watch too much more of it as I am not that interested in more recent country music, although I like some of it.

So the big story of this series is how much of supposedly "white music" is of African-American origin.  I had long been aware of how the banjo was of African origin, the core country instrument beside the "fiddle," aka "violin," which is of European origin.  But it shows that most of the important early Country music people had serious interactions with black musicians, relying on them for finding music as well as helping them developing their own styles.  These figures include A.P. Carter, the founder of the Carter family, Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Williams, Johnnie Cash, and others.

All of this clearly rebukes the Country Music Association's rejection of this year's massive hit, "Old Country Road," as being officially "country music."  Despite the fantasies of ignorant current racists, country music and rhythm and blues and, jazz, not to mention rock and  roll, have always been curiously hybrid forms of music.

This also extends to rock and roll, with Elvis Presley coming originally out of hillbilly music with his sidemen of that origin.  His borrowing from Rhythm and Blues was nothing new.  Indeed, it was only in 1949 that Billboard shifted to calling what had been labeled "Race Music" to "Rhythm and Blues" and what had been "Hillbilly Music" to "Country and Western," with people like Bob Wills adding Latino and cowboy themes to whhat had earlier come out of southwestern Virginia with Carter family, later tied up with Johnie Cash, and Billie Rodgers out of Mississippi.  Both of these had African-American influences.

The earliest of these performers was arguably John Carson, recorded initially in 1923, who had been a textile worker in Atlanta.  Among those he performed for included both the KKK and the US Communist Party.  While originally an urban worker, he later moved to the rural Tennessee.

An ongoing theme involved class, with even Burns not showing this fully. Thus in the 1950s Patsy Cline was a big hit, with her song by Willie Nelson, "Crazy," one of the biggest selling songs of all time.  But the show did not depict how she was mistreated in her hometown of Winchester, Virginia, with this continuing until long after her death in a 1963 plane crash to the point that it was only quite recently that this city not too far from where I live finally figured out that they should overcome the longstanding disdain held by local elites against her and her "wrong side of town" background to honor her and her home, with much of this amounting to taking advantage of her popularity as a local girl made good and popular with tourists, even as the local elites continued to disdain her.

Anyway, the bottom line is that all of them: country, R&B, and rock and roll were racial hybrids with people from both Euripean traditions such as fiddlers as well as Africans with their banjos, and other influences as well, all drawing on each other.  Current country music rulers out of Nashville ruling out "Old Town Road" from being a country song because its singer is a black rapper, are simply ignoring hard history, as are those going the other way, ignoring European influences on supposedly "black music"

\Barkley Rosser




Wednesday, September 18, 2019

The Strike On Saudi Oil Facilities

This is going to be a tentative post because there is much that remains unclear.  What I am going to do is to make it clear that stories that are being told by US authorities and largely repeated by the MSM with little critical commentary is highly questionable.

As it is, it looks like the economic impact of the knocking out of about 60 percent of Saudi oil processing capacity by an attack by 20 drones will not amount to too much.  The Saudis have now announced that they should have 70 percent of their damaged production capacity back in operation withing a week or two.  While crude oil prices initially surged 20 percent up, they have largely fallen back toward where they were before the attack.  This is a massive contrast with how all this used to be back in the 1970s when, for example, crude prices would triple or even quadruple with a supply disruption from the Persian Gulf, with dramatic stagflationary effects on all the oil importing national economies.  This does not look remotely likely to happen.

The matter that remains very much in the air, with a threat of war breaking out worse than it is already happening, involves the source of the attack on the facilities in Khurais and Abqaiq.  SecState Pompeo outright said the attack came from Iran.  Supposedly US intelligence agencies are supporting this, although there seem to be doubts.  Buried deep in the press reports are caveats suggesting that maybe not quite all the attacks came from there.  Of course it is essentially impossible to evaluate these claims as we know these agencies have their secret methods and sources they are not leaking.  But then we see both the Saudis and President Trump holding back from fully going along with this report.

So why might this be wrong?  Well, at least one alternative version appears to have been decisively repudiated. That is that the attack came from Shia militias in Iraq.  This theory was put forth by Bibi Netanyahu of Israel, perhaps as a desperate part of his reelection campaign, with it looking like he has not done well in that election, although the full outcome is still not known.  But this apparently blatantly ridiculous report may be the beginning of the end of people taking publicly announced Israeli intelligence reports as things to be taken seriously.

However, the more serious alternative to Iran as a source is the Yemeni Houthis.  Almost certainly the drones were from Iran, although even that is not definitely certain.  In any case several statements have come supposedly from US intel agencies that the Yemeni Houthis could not have done this, even though they themselves have been loudly claiming that they did it, while the Iranians are loudly denying that they did it.  Supposedly this all distraction from the role of the Iranians. But Juan Cole has pointed out things that the media are simply not reporting things that suggest that indeed  the Yemeni Houthis appear to have the capability.  In particular in May the Houthis launched a drone attack on an oil pumping station at al-Duadimi, well over 800 miles from Sana'a.  The sites struck in this attack are only another 100 miles further, and the Shehad 129 Iranian drone supposedly can travel a full 1100 miles.  Why are we seeing no reports of this in the media?

As it is, it may be that both the Saudis and even Trump may be aware of this matter that has not been well publicized.  If so, no wonder they are not fully signing on to saying it was Iran, quite aside from a reluctance to get into a new war there. Whatever has really gone down, let us hope at least there will be no new war.

Barkley Rosser

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Frederic L. Pryor Dies

On September 2, 2019, Frederic L. Pryor died at age 86, which has now been reported in obits in both the  NY Times and the Washington Post.  These outlets have focused on his incidental role in 1861-62 as the unfortunate graduate student who was arrested in East Berlin on Aug. 25, 1961 while attempting to visit the sister of a friend, with the sister having already defected to the West.  Fred was also planning to give a copy of his PhD (Yale) dissertation to someone who had helped him with it, but when the Stasi watching this woman's place saw him and found a copy of his dissertation  on  the foreign trade patterns of the then East Germany, just in the midst of building the infamous Berlin Wall, he was arrested as a spy.  He would only be released early in the following February in 1962 as part of the "Bridge of Spies" exchange involving Francis Gary Powers of U2 fame and Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (real name: William Fisher), with this being arranged by US attorney, James Donovan.  He would be played by Tom Hanks in the 2015 film version of this put on by Steven Spielberg, although Spielberg never communicated with Pryor and absurdly misrepresented him in the film.

Beyond this headline story there was much more to Fred Pryor, a personal friend to me and my wife, Marina, who wrote a back cover blurb for the second edition of our comparative economics textbook.  Coming to locate at Swarthmore College in 1967, where remained for the rest of his life including as an emeritus professor, he wrote many articles and books on a wide array of issues, including many highly innovative ones on comparative economics. He was one of the leading experts in socialist agriculture as exemplified in his 1992 The Red and the Green: The Rise and Fall of Collectivized Agriculture in Marxist Regimes (Princeton University Press), which subtly recognized the high productivity of Hungarian agricultural collectives, along with the  more widely recognized failures in many such regimes. 

He also was one of the first to recognize the variety of economic systems that did not neatly fall into either the market capitalist or command socialist categories.  In 1985 he wrote on the nature of Islamic economics and in 1988 on the complicated nature of "Corporatism as an Economic System" (Journal of Comparative Economics), which ranged from the authoritarian "corporate state" models of fascist Italy and Nazi Germany and Austria, to the liberal versions found in Sweden and post-WW II Austria later, which had excellent records in controlling unemployment and inflation.  In these studies he understood the role of religion, not just in Islamic economics, but also the Roman Catholic Church as the origin of the corporatist model.  Marina and I would extend this approach to what we called "New Traditional" economic systems, an idea Fred approved of.

He also was a student of economic complexity as shown in his 2011 Economic Evolution and Structues: The Impact of Complexity on the U.S. Economy, although I disagreed with him on his view here arguing that what he really was observing was "complicatedness" rather than true complexity.  He wrote on many other topics as well.

Unlike the anodyne figure played by Will Rogers in the movie "Bridge of Spies," Fred was a sharp and witty character who I imagine gave his East German interrogators a hard time, even as he wisecracked that what they did to him ten hours a day for nearly six months amounted to  good way to learn German. He did not suffer fools gladly.

Fred arrived at Swarthmore four years after Marty Weitzman graduated from there as a student of comparative economic systems, although majoring in math and physics.  Also graduating then was my sister, Edwenna Rosser Werner, who would go on to get a PhD in psychology from Harvard.  That group at Swarthmore included such figures as social capital theorist Robert Putnam, as well as economists Duncan Foley, Roy Weintraub, and Gavin Wright.  My sister died on 9/11/19 of a burst brain aneurysm.

Barkley Rosser

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Whither Ukraine?

Or "wither Ukraine?" some might suggest?  But no, after nerly 30 years of serious economic stagnation and massive corruption, along with losing territory to neighboring Russia with whom it has on ongoing military conflict, things are looking up there.  GDP grew at 4 percent annually last quarter.  The  hryvnia currency has been the second most rapidly rising currency in the world during 2019.  There has even been a prisoner exchange with Russia.  All this comes under its new president, Volodymyr Zelensky, who until recently was playing a Ukrainian president on a TV show. That sounds like a joke, but so far he seems to be delivering the goods, including an apparent effort to combat the deeply entrenched corruption practiced by both his pro-Russian and pro-EU predecessors.

A curious aspect of this so far successful presidency seems to be the effort by President Trump to undermine it, or at least not help it.  $250 million in military aid has been canceled.  Is this more payoff to Vladimir Putin for a future Trump Tower in Moscow?  There have also been reported efforts led by Rudi Giuliani to get the Ukrainian government to open an investigation into alleged misdeeds by a son of Joe  Biden who worked for a Ukrainian company for awhile. There have also been efforts to get them to denny charges made against former Trump campaign manager, Paul Manafort.  Rumors are that the military aid is being held up until The Ukrainians deliver on the firrst of these items, which would be pathetic.  So far they do not seem to be going along.

I was in Kyiv (Kiev) last weekk for a nonlinear economic dynamics conference and can confirm that the optimistic feelings are shared by Ukrainian economists I met there, some of whom I have known for a long time and who have not been like this in the past.  Maybe it will not work out, but for now there definitely is optimism there. Ironically an advantage of not having had much economic growrth over the last 30 years is that there are few modern glass and steel buildings downtown, with many very beautiful per-revolutionary ones there, with sculptures on them and painted bright colors.  This goes along with various historical buildings and sites dating back nearly a 1000 years.

Barkley Rosser

Monday, September 9, 2019

MbS Consolidates Immediate Family Control Of Saudi Oil Industry

Saudi Oil Minister al Falih, who also ran ARAMCO, has been replaced by Abdulaziz bin Salman bin Abdulaziz  al Sa'ud, half brother of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz al Sa'ud, (MbS),who was Ambassodor to the US untile the Khahoggi murder got hot between USA and KSA.

The New York Times claims that this is part of an effort by MbS to modernize the Saudi economy, an ongoing line of th Saudi PR machine.  However more specifically how al Falih got in trouble with MbS is that oil prices are too low and there has not yet been an IPO for ARAMCO.  These probably are issues for MbS, although I think at this point the Saudi Oil Minister's ability to make oil prices go up has become limited.  But the lack of an ARAMCO IPO clearly has cost variouis members of the Saudi royal family money.  But the problem has been that to issue an IPO ARAMCO will have to make public information that apparently it does not want to.  Whether MbS and his brother are really ready to do that is unclear.

Anyway, I think all this talk about modernizing is just baloney.  This is just a further move to consolidate power and also make money for the Salmans, the king and his sons.

Barkley Rossser

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Is Doing Environmental Economics Especially Depressing?

We have now learned that on Aug. 27 last week Matin Weitzman hanged himself, leaving a note citing his failure to share in last year's Nobel Prize as well as his apparently declining mental acuity.  That prize he did not share included William Nordhaus as a recipient for his work on climate economics issues, a topic that Weitzman also worked on, arguably more deeply and originally than did Nordhaus.

Last April Alan Krueger also committed suicide, although we have to this day not learned either how it was done or if he left any notes or if somehow it is otherwise known why he did it, with the only hint of any trouble being that he suddenly stopped tweeting in January, which he had previously done daily.  He is better known for his work on minimum wages with David Card and worked on many topics.  But among his topics was also environmental economics, with he and Gene Grossman publishing an influential paper on the Environmental Kuznets Curve in 1994, although it is nnot fully known that it was actually discovered by Thomas Selden and Song Daqing from looking at data on SO2 emissions by country.  So he was also involved in environmental economics.

Ironicially the EKC is widely viewed as an optimistic theory: if only we can get income levels high enough around the world, most pollution problems will take care of themselves.  However, while this seems to maybe finally be kicking in for C02 emissions, it has been slow and late in coming, with many nations still increasing emissions, and CO2 not leaving the atmosphere quickly, so that ambient concentrations will continue to rise even as emissions decline for a long time.  The potential optimism of the EKC is seriously weakened when it comes to global warming.

This is all probably quite secondary for what led either of these respected economists to end their lives, but it is a curious coincidence, and I cannot help but think that much of what is going on with the global warming issue may not have contributed to their deadly depressions.

Barkley Rosser